Authorities in Greece expressed concern Monday that migrants and refugees are gathering on Turkey's coast with plans to cross the Aegean Sea to Greek islands despite movement restrictions in both countries to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Daily clashes between border police and migrants broke out at the land border between Turkey and Greece in March after the Turkish government said it would no longer stop people from trying to enter Europe.
Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said authorities now “have seen signs of activity" on the shores of Turkey.
“We will ... continue to do whatever it takes to defend our sovereign rights and guard the borders of Greece and Europe," he said.
The Greek islands last year were the European Union’s busiest entry point for illegal migration, according to European border agency Frontex.
Turkish authorities previously inhibited migration to Europe in return for Syrian refugee aid as part of a deal with the EU.
Greek Defense Ministry officials said military personnel have been guarding the country's land and sea borders since Turkey accused the EU of not abiding by its commitments and said it would no longer deter people heading to Europe.
Turkey has been a key transit point for migrants aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.
Thousands of migrants had camped at Turkey's border with Greece after Ankara declared in late February that it would no longer stop them from going to Europe, accusing the EU of not upholding its part of a 2016 refugee deal.
Turkey's decision to open the border came after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed by forces of the Bashar Assad regime, in Idlib, northwestern Syria. Turkish soldiers had been stationed in the area to protect local civilians as part of a 2018 deal with Russia forbidding acts of aggression within a certain delineation.
Turkey already hosts nearly 4 million Syrian migrants, more than any country in the world. It says it cannot handle another refugee wave.
Greece's response to migrants trying to enter the country without prior authorization has been harsh, with at least three killed by Greek security forces and many others battered and tear-gassed.
The Human Rights Watch urged Greece and the EU to respect human rights in light of Turkey's new policy of refusing to halt migrants and refugees trying to leave for Greece. The international human rights group also criticized a decision by Athens to suspend new asylum applications for a month and summarily deport those arriving in last month's surge. Also, inhumane conditions in Greece’s refugee camps have been another point of heavy criticism.
Turkey condemned Greece for its harsh reaction to the influx of people at its border, including physical attacks, spraying tear gas and killing several people who attempted to cross to Greece from Turkey.
Meanwhile, Turkey has settled a large number of refugees and migrants, previously waiting at the Greek border, at repatriation centers due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
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